We have had little rain recently. Enough to keep things green and fresh, but not the daily storms. I fear we are going to start hearing about the lack of water again this year. We've been walking and hiking in the afternoon without getting wet.
With Robert and Ilonke from Barcelona on the hike where you walk down a stone path to a bridge and stream and falls and then up the other side. It is
the short route from Xico Viejo to Xico. You can only go by foot, but it's quicker than going by the regular road even in a vehicle.
There are stone foot and burro and horse paths criss-crossing the local hills and fields and forests. As I've said, we wonder who's walked on them, how old they are. Here generations and centuries tumble on top of each other and mix together. I had the same feeling in Florence forty years ago, where people lived in spaces that might have been created in the Renaissance or last year or both. Indeed, the stones being used for a new road were probably dug up from an old one. People near one of Santa Anna's haciendas, Manga de Clavo, probably live in houses built from the materials from his buildings.
There's a wandering American named John Todd, Jr. who lives in Veracruz. I've never met him, but he has a lovely web site. He tells of looking for Manga de Clavo, near the city of Veracruz. This is the hacienda in which Santa Anna raised his first family (or, rather his wife did) and grew crops and kept cattle and other animals quite successfully. And also allowed friends to hide in during dangerous political times. The hacienda has pretty much been erased, no maps or surveys exist to pinpoint its exact location. Todd did a lot of investigating to find the barest traces of it. So the relatively recent remains, by Mexican standards, of Santa Anna's hacienda are gone, but nearby, you can find scattered in the grass and still standing on the crests of hills and in fields temples and ball fields and cemetary stones five times and more as old as would be Manga de Clavo. You can sit on them, picnic on them, almost sense the ghosts of the people who lived among them. And you can sense them doing very ordinary things, minding their children, tending their gardens, talking about the weather.
Having lived in San Antonio, Texas for quite a number of years, and now here in Santa Anna's stomping grounds, I have grown curious about him. And have added curiosity about him to my growing interest in the history of this region I now call home. So I've been reading as well as walking.
I've been going back and forth through the years decades and centuries: I've stopped being chronological. One question leads to another, and in fact the tapestry has overlapping threads and colors and sudden holes and repeating imagery and splotches of mold and thick bloodstains too. Too much blood, I think.
The whole southern part of Mexico was heavily populated at the time the Spanish arrived: estimates are that there somewhere between 16 and 30 million people, maybe more (estimates for all Mesoamerica range from 30 to 50 million) with a number of scholars settling at about 25 million. The diseases the Spaniards brought with them killed so many indígenas that much of the land fell silent after the Spaniards' arrival. Perhaps 150,000 remained only a few years after Cortés and his Conquistadors defeated Moctezuma.
The Spanish radically transformed the landscape not only by disease but by bringing European plants and animals. In the Northeast of the United States, the plants were much more similar to those in Europe, so while the Indian population was decimated, the landscape didn't change anywhere near as much as it did in Mexico, at least not until industrialization. The Spanish went to work with amazing speed to transform Mexico.
I have ideas about what the Northeastern US looked like in the early years of its settlement. I grew up in the Northeast and can imagine the Iroquois in their long houses settled in the dense northern forest. We were all taken as school children to see dioramas and large exhibits which purported to show Life among the Indians and Life in Colonial Times at the Museum of Natural History. Indeed, there were recreations of the interiors of historic houses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I liked to sit at the window in one that wasn't roped off and do my homework from time to time. Of course I don't know how accurate my ideas are, but they are comfortable to nestle in when I read the history of my home turf.
We've traveled a lot now in Veracruz, but I still have a hard time conjuring up indigenous villages intermingled with Spanish settlements through the colonial era. Or were they intermingled? Or were some? Today, in villages further from the cities and colonial towns here in Veracruz, people look more indigenous, and are often poorer, but they are very Catholic -- the Catholic is the top and most prominent layer of any mix with indigenas' belief systems. They raise cattle and goats and sheep which were brought by the Spanish and in many places they have tvs, and they drink coca cola as they herd their flocks or ride burros, also brought over by the Spanish, with wooden saddles.
Some goats at a stream.
I'd like to know more about this interpenetration of cultures. Before the Spanish came, I don't think there were very many groups that were isolated.
And then I find my thoughts drifting to Santa Anna: the most hated man in Texas history as anyone who lives or has lived in Texas knows. So I've been reading about him, too. He was born in a house which is now the main branch of our bank in Xalapa. Huh! And walked the same streets I've walked. And I've been in one of his haciendas a few times: El Lencero. And he was in Texas before he killed off all those Texas heroes in the Alamo and he liked it and considered it part of HIS world and HIS country. And boy, was he a complicated person.
So I leave you with these questions for now. But I hope I've peaked your interest.